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Book Review: "No Logo" by Naomi Klein

5/5 - are you a human billboard?

By Annie KapurPublished 12 days ago 9 min read
Top Story - May 2024
From: Amazon

Naomi Klein is no doubt, a huge author and you're going to be quite surprised about the fact that I have actually barely read anything by her though I am aware of her existence. Her book No Logo is recommended reading in the book The Inner Level by Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett and is about the way brands have aggressively waded themselves into every aspect of our existence.

As I write this on a Macbook whilst simulataneously messaging people on my iPhone, drinking a San Pellegrino Sparkling Water bottle in my bedroom, I look around in confusion as brand names advertising to my personality type are everywhere. From the Soap and Glory items that litter my shelf with their 1950s retro-style hyper-feminine tubs all the way to my dark blue Ralph Lauren suitcase in the corner of the room. From the Harrods Coffee with its very Victorian British design to my pink Paul Costelloe backpack on the floor which holds all of my treasured items. I ask myself: what does this give away as the kind of person I am? What kind of lifestyle am I being sold?

From Disney bedsheets though I'm almost 30 to Ted Baker pink Beach towels, The Body Shop, Tommy Hilfiger and other brands I own items of will pop up in this book and make me super-conscious about my life and its all its brand names. I, as many of you are - am a walking advertisement for thousands of companies selling a lifestyle that doesn't exist.

Naomi Klein is a genius.

From: Amazon

The book goes through some major talking points, some of which I have heard before but not in this much detail. I was surprised to learn that a major marketing manager for Starbucks was also the guy who came up with the 'Just Do It' campaign for Nike (I mean even if you don't like the idea of it that much, you can't deny its an achievement. Tell me you're good at your job without telling me you're good at your job). But the one thing I liked to begin with was how she talked about the change from brands selling products to brands selling lifestyles.

I think we are all aware of how abstract and weird adverts have become and how sometimes, we don't even know what they are selling. This is by design and definitely done with a whole team of people working diligently to get across a message that associates their brand with a lifestyle rather than their product with a purpose. According to Klein, this began in the 1980s as a concept to connect people to their brands more and boomed in the 1990s when companies started to want brand loyalty from customers rather than product loyalty.

It has actually increased so much that now we have brands that are not associated with products - like Virgin. Virgin sells everything from cola to flights. We even have companies that rely on iconic image marketing and now sell a whole host of different products based on their iconic image, built up through masses of corporate sponshorship deals - Coca Cola. I mean, didn't Coca-Cola even sponsor the Fifa World Cup for football?

Another point I found interesting upon the same topic was the fact that some advertisers have even hacked into our brains to sell us something that is not just a lifestyle, but it also controls the choices we make. The catch is: there is no product. Social media has no product and yet, users engage with it en masse every single day. It has become so much of an issue that some people now struggle to get off it and it is so embedded in the social fabric that it becomes nearly impossible to not use it at all in some form as it is now almost essential for our functioning lives.

It hearkens back to that phrase I heard on a documentary starring Jordan B Peterson called The Creepy Line - (I don't think it was Peterson who actually said the line though I don't fully remember) and it goes something like: if the company isn't advertising you a product then you are the product. And all of it becomes a big spin for marketing. You use a platform where you are the product to advertisers and they aggressively market lifestyles to you through this forum so that you buy more products and spend more time online, devoted to 'following' their brands. The cycle continues forever much like the "boot stepping on a human face" from 1984 by George Orwell.

From: The Guardian

It is true in the arguments that Naomi Klein makes that the beginnings of the book that advertising products has become essentially useless and now, marketing must focus on building bigger, more extravagant brands connected to emotions, lifestyles, images, aesthetics and societies in order for them to weave themselves into the fabrics of our lives, becoming more than essential in our private theatres of ourselves, building lives that brands want us to build so that we remain loyal. I'm starting to sound like Fight Club and I don't like it.

Tommy Hilfiger is one of the brands discussed in the book and the way it has designed itself as a brand is actually fairly interesting. It presents its logo as its clothing, merging them together so that the clothing becomes instantly recognisable as being from the brand. Its no longer about a small insignia on the clothes, but the consumers become the brand by wearing very 'on type' clothing. Shaped by its use of colours and its aesthetic, whoever wears those clothes is essentially now just a billboard for the company. This, intertwined with the 'deep and meaningful' narrative companies sell to its customers creates a deeply disturbing rhetoric of people buying a story and not buying a product.

This takes on a whole new form when Naomi Klein quotes from another person that "products are made in the factory, brands are made in the mind" and that solidifies how insidious it is that these brands call themselves great ideas, but also that they are attempting (and succeeding) at basically hacking into our brains. We have all therefore become market research in almost every aspect of our lives. Obviously, this hearkens back to the Cambridge Analytica Scandal in which we were sold to companies without our permission.

All this brain-hacking means that culture is commodified. Another point of the book that was really quite interesting is where the author discusses the use of the TV Show Dawson's Creek to sell J.Crew clothing and the use of J.Crew clothing to sell Dawson's Creek. Brands merge like this in order to create a consumer base that is even bigger. This includes things like the New York Times teaming up with Barnes and Noble. Why would you have one consumer base when you can have two? This is a question Naomi Klein answers in the book. Corporations don't just want consumers to be sold things in adverts, they wanted consumers to have a pre-packaged shrink-wrapped lifestyle. And they got it. Whilst relying on the narrative to sell the brand, everything else that came next from the consumer needs to make people believe that they gave themselves the idea to buy the product. Well, we know that this isn't the case.

From: Naomi Klein

Klein discusses the illusion of choice perfectly, giving articulation to the whole point of it being to create this Orwellian delusion into how customers are choosing what they buy. They are actually choosing who they buy from. The brand will then decide what you buy. The extension of branding into merchandising has done that for us. Ever seen someone with a 'Starbucks' key chain? Or a Coca-Cola t-shirt? Well, that's what we're seeing here. People turn into adverts, quite literally, for business that are 'meant' to be selling something completely different. Brands need stories to draw people in, then they sell the lifestyle of the brand through aesthetics and illusion of access, then they tailor what you buy because they are the ones selling it, after that you are more than just a piece of market research, you are more than a brand consumer - you are a billboard.

As a teen, I used to own Coca-Cola lipsticks and now I wonder about why I used to own them. Even if I were to go back to when I was a child, if there is one thing I remember of my childhood it is that so many kids owned those pencil cases that looked like oversized soda pop cans: Sprite, Fanta, Tango, Coca-Cola and more. These brands don't sell pencil cases, they sell lifestyles of fun to children who go to school. Children going to school means that there is more money to be made out of products required for going to school.

It moves us on to another point this book discusses in a lot of detail: the commodification of youth culture. In a time where everything needs to be merchandised, young people are also spending more money in order to fit in with the group. This means that once you've got the 'cool' in order for the brand, you don't just get one teenager - you get thousands (expedited also by social media outbursts and brands 'going viral'). You also get brand loyalty which means, other products that are produced by the same brand get similar attention. It is not the product that has to be cool, it's the brand that has to be cool. No longer is the phrase 'is this cool?' discussed by children, but instead it has made its way into market research labs all over the western world.

We have seen it recently with the Stanley Cup culture that took over social media for a while and had teen girls buying them by the bucket load despite the brand actually marketing itself as an outdoorsy workman's sort of product. They made them different pop colours relevant to the emerging "Barbiecore" which was riding on the back of the gen z and alpha's early-2000s-heyday-nostalgia and sold the teens a lifestyle of being involved in that 'coolness'. A sense of belonging fashioned by a brand which thought: 'hey, girls like pink and Barbie...' not such a wild thought there, but still it worked. No matter how much you hate it, you have to admire what they did and how they essentially sold a product that would be pretty clunky for teen girls who went to school to an overwhelming group of people.

From: Elevate

This moves on to another point the book analyses in detail where identity has come to the forefront of brand awareness and brand campaigns. For years, representation and identity politics have ruled over campaigns against mainstream media, advertising and even the film industry. This is because it's exactly what the consumers were asking for or else, they would boycott the brand. However, instead of fighting back like the big corporate bully they were thought to be, they caved in and went all-out identity politics. Why? They want everyone to believe in diversity in the same way - through the lens of the brand. Do you want to show your appreciation for the LGBTQA+ community? Then buy these items from this brand who has washed their corporate logo in rainbow colours for this month only. Exclusivity plus the illusion of diversity produced by ad campaigns specifically designed to make money from identities creates not only a whole host of brand consumers but also makes the brand no longer seem like the bully it was once portrayed as.

From the overhaul of public spaces by commercial superstars such as Starbucks, to the Robin-Hood-ism taking over guerilla art, from movie stars are corporate property in order to promote both brands and films (think of the Brad Pitt/Levi's campaign at a time where the actor was releasing a whole host of movies) all the way to corporate sponsored rock concerts, from the brand becoming culture to the brand becoming necessary, rewards systems and exclusive member groups, minorities being represented in the name of diversity for consumerism and even down to where adverts are placed in magazines - the commercialism is quite literally absolutely everywhere. We cannot escape.

This book is less about how to fight the fight than it is about pointers on how you would start. It is more about how to recognise when you're being taken for market research because now that everything is done on our phones when it comes to what we spend our money on and when social media has given us a chance to project our identities somewhere - there is a lot of market research to harvest. This compelling book may have been written a while ago now but I think Naomi Klein is right on target here. It has become so much worse since and it is horrifying.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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    Well-structured & engaging content

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Comments (5)

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  • Marie Wilson8 days ago

    Love Klein & you do her proud with your review, although including Peterson in it, who mostly markets disinformation & hate, took me right out of the essential No Logo message. Congrats on Top Story!

  • Anna 8 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!

  • Kendall Defoe 11 days ago

    I did not know there were anniversary editions of the text, but I'm glad people are still reading her. We seem so far down the rabbit hole that a "Fight Club" or hippie solution seem to be the only options... Anyway, I'm going to put my Samsung down, finish my Tim Hortons coffee, pick up my New Yorker bag and by apples from IGA now...

  • Christy Munson12 days ago

    Interesting book review. I've not read the original work so I cannot speak to that, but you've reiterated a lot of the observations, comments, and conclusions I've reached as well. I remember when, in the 1980s, the transition happened and lifestyles started to become commodities. I saw it a lot in the music business then. Today there are at least 3,000 companies who purchase bulk data and aggregate, shuffle, slice and dice, resell, assess, and otherwise use the data. And everyone who uses any form of social media has agreed to it. The privacy advocates with whom I've spoken can speak to it for days on end without taking a second to breathe and still not explain it all. Anyway, I could go on but I'll leave it there. Thought provoking, so thanks for that!

  • Read this years ago and it is an absolute must-read. Today the brand/logo is far more important than the product to most people. Excellent review and I hope this gets a Top STory

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